Reversing Water and Moisture Damage in Traditional Photographs

Photographs are the most common way to hold onto memories. However, water damage can both distort your photos and cause them to adhere to one another.

archival method for separating stuck photosThe gelatinous emulsion of a photograph acts like an adhesive when it becomes moist. As a result, pictures may adhere to one another when they are exposed to moisture or high levels of humidity. Trying to separate them can result in tearing and loss of portions of the image.

A photographic conservator will be able to separate most photos without damage. However, there is a technique that can be used to separate most photographs that doesn’t require a professional conservator. There is risk of further damage involved in the process, so it should only be used as a last resort – and never with any one-of-a-kind, valuable, or irreplaceable photos.

Place the stuck photographs image side up in a bath of room temperature distilled water (which can be purchased at most grocery stores or pharmacies) for a period of 15 to 30 minutes (longer exposure to water can result in distortion).

Remove and gently pull apart the photos with your fingers. A thin, silicone coated spatula inserted between may be required for stubborn cases.

Finally, shake off any excess water and place the photos image side up on paper towels or blotting paper to dry. Weight down the edges to minimize curling as they dry. This process can also be effective for photos that become stuck to glass while framed.

Though there are several ways to repair water-damaged photographs, the Image Permanence Institute recommends both blotting and air-drying in a very comprehensive guide on the subject. Blotting is the most widely recommended practice in drying wet photographs. Placing the wet prints in between sheets of blotting paper, while also applying constant pressure, ensures drying and consistent flattening of the photos. Air-drying can also be used, but be aware that this method has the potential to show cockling, wrinkling, and distortion.

For stuck photographs of high historical, sentimental, or monetary value, it is highly recommended that a photographic conservator be consulted.

University Products offers a wide variety of photo products that are sure to help you with your photo restoration and preservation projects.

His Songs are Our Songs: NEDCC Conserves Woody Guthrie Scrapbooks

In anticipation of this summer’s 100th birthday celebration of Woody Guthrie, the Northeast Document Conservation Center, in concert with the Woody Guthrie Archives, (curated by Guthrie’s daughter Nora) began the process of conserving and digitizing (made possible though a grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)) six of Guthrie’s scrapbooks and notebooks. The process of conservation included cleaning, digitizing and encapsulation.

Woody Guthrie publicity photograph for his 1943 autobiography, Bound For Glory. New York, 1942.
Woody Guthrie publicity photograph for his 1943 autobiography, Bound For Glory. New York, 1942. Photograph by Robin Carson. Encapsulation of photographs and fragile scrapbook pages in polyester film provides excellent protection during handling.
One of Woody Guthrie’s notebooks from 1952.
One of Woody Guthrie’s notebooks from 1952. Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s daughter and Archives Director, personally delivered materials from the Woody Guthrie Archives to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, MA, for conservation treatment and digitization.

These materials showcase the ideas, illustrations, and songwriting techniques of one of America’s musical treasures. All of these items are in Guthrie’s own handwriting and include lyrics, poetry, artwork, and photographs with handwritten captions. These books captured road trips that Guthrie and his family took through Oklahoma, Texas, California, Florida, and New York. The scrapbooks date back to the 1940’s and 1950’s and even include rejection letters from major record labels.

NEDCC’s process for conserving the scrapbooks included the removal of photographs for cleaning. Found on the back side of these were handwritten captions that shed light on the setting and subjects of the photos. “It has changed the way we research,” says Guthrie Archivist Tiffany Colannino. “And solved more than a few mysteries,” she added. The condition of some of the volumes was so poor that researchers at the Guthrie Archives had not been able to fully examine them. Through conserving these scrapbooks, NEDCC conservators were able to introduce new resources to the Guthrie Archives’ collection.

Included in this set was a 230-page book that contained details about Guthrie’s 27-year stay in New York City and his friends, associates, and collaborators there including Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Allan Lomax, and Sonny Terry. This scrapbook is now a cornerstone of a book project from Nora Guthrie and the Woody Guthrie Archives entitled My Name is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s New York Town; A Walking Guide that is slated to be published by PowerHouse Books in May, 2012.

With Woody Guthrie’s indelible influence on making music to bring about change, successors like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Bruce Springsteen have kept his message alive and with this conservation project and the resulting archival discoveries, more artists will continue to follow in Woody Guthrie’s footsteps.

If you have a special collection of photographs or documents, see University Products’ selection of photo products and archival storage folders & enclosures.

Washington Conservation Guild Meeting

New product for textile restoration - Miniature Suction ToolThe Washington Conservation Guild January Meeting took place on Thursday, January 5th at the S Dillon Ripley Center of the Smithsonian, 1100 West Jefferson Drive.  A reception began at 5:00 pm with talks starting at 6:00pm.  Among the sponsors of the event was University Products.  John Dunphy, who was representing the company, displayed a varietyNew Product - stylish and convenient lighted magnifying glasses of new items including a new miniature suction device, lighted magnifying glasses, and the new publication, Health & Safety for Museum Professionals, a joint publication of the Society of the Preservation of Natural History (SPNHC) and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).  University Products is the official distributor of SPNHC publications.

New Product - Health & Safety for Museum Professionals book.While in Washington, John also visited the Lunder Conservation Center. Paper Conservator Kate Maynor was kind enough to show him around.  Like other visitors here, John had the unique opportunity to see conservators at work in five different laboratories and studios. The Center features floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow the public to view all aspects of conservation work— work that is traditionally done behind the scenes at other museums and conservation centers. Interactive kiosks and special displays make it easy for visitors to learn about the importance of conservation and show how to take an active role in caring for public art and monuments, as well as how to care for personal treasures at home.smithsonian institution museum

During his brief visit to D.C., John also had the opportunity to visit friends at the Preservation Department of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Museum Textile Services Conserves and Mounts A Star-Spangled Banner

With this past December’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, our friends at Museum Textile Services in Andover, Mass., took on the task of conserving an American flag from the US Coast Guard ship the USS Centaurus earlier in 2011. The USS Centaurus served as an attack cargo ship in WWII’s Pacific Theater including the Battle of Guadalcanal (in the Solomon Islands) in June 1944. The ship’s career also included being involved in the Battle of Okinawa and servicing Pearl Harbor.

American Flag from US Coast Guard ship USS Centaurus
The USS Centaurus flag prior to conservation, Courtesy of Coast Guard Historic Collection

Museum Textile Services’ conservation process required multiple steps and extreme care. With an additional flag that also served at Guadalcanal, the flag from the Centaurus was removed from its old backing fabric and vacuumed and humidified to remove particulates, folds, and wrinkles. Also, upon arrival to MTS, the Guadalcanal flag had such severe fraying that servicemen tied knots in the strands on the fly end. Not every knot was able to be untied prior to mounting.

Both the Centaurus and Guadalcanal flags were pressure mounted in an effort to cut down on the amount of required stitching. MTS used our quarter-inch archival Polyfelt to make a soft surface for the flags. This padding was placed on a solid support panel made by our friends Small Corp, Inc., in nearby Greenfield, Mass. MTS also used a UV-filtering acrylic box to complete the project.

If you require specialized archival materials for your textile conservation project, see University Products’ selection of textile conservation products.

Protecting Textiles with Photo-Tex Tissue

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has recently augmented their collection of antique gloves and wristlets as part of their Fashion Arts and Textiles collection. Many of the pieces in this collection are being stored and preserved with Photo-Tex tissue. Wristlet pieces in the collection that did not require padded supports, were stored and stacked in pairs with an interleaving of Photo-Tex. Additionally, a pair of lace gloves in this collection were stored with Photo-Tex for support and as a catch-all for any loose parts or pieces from the pair.

Archival Storage Tissue unbuffered, high-purity, 100% cotton all rag sheetNew for 2012, is the addition of Photo-Tex tissue to our inventory. This unbuffered, high-purity, 100% cotton all rag sheet meets the highest standards for the storage of photographs, textiles and works of art on paper, as well as silver and artifacts.

In addition to Photo-Tex, the Museum of Fine Arts used the following types of products to build the custom storage solutions for their antique gloves and wristlets: custom trays, 4 ply matboard, Volara, Tyvek, polyester batting, muslin, twill tape, polyethylene foam blocks, and Corrosion Intercept Film Rolls.

Protect your archival collection with the finest preservation materials from University Products!